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14 December 2016

...And the Best Supporting Role is: Queen Alfreda

Join a selection of fabulous authors and their
Supporting Role Characters
Twitter #SupportingRole

We all know the protagonist is the hero (or anti-hero!) of a novel. He or she usually has a companion main character, often the ‘love interest’ or maybe the stalwart side-kick, but what about that next rank down: the supporting role guy or gal? You know, the one who doesn’t get Best Actor, but Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars. I thought it time that some of these supporting cast characters had a chance to step from the shadows of novels and have a turn in the limelight.

So, a rousing round of applause please for…Queen Alfreda
a Supporting Role Character from 
Alvar the Kingmaker
by Annie Whitehead

Helen: Hello, I believe you appear in Annie Whitehead’s novel Alvar the Kingmaker? Would you like to introduce yourself?
Do I need to? Surely you know that I am an anointed queen, wife to a king and mother of a king? No? In that case, I will tell you. I am the daughter of a nobleman, I was married off at a young age to a cruel man, and when that marriage ended I placed myself in the protective embrace of King Edgar, who made me his queen.

Helen: what role do you play in the novel?
I am there, I think, to show the world that men, especially Churchmen, live by double standards. And to show how women must find their own way through a difficult and, at times, exceedingly unkind world. We conduct our battles well away from the battlefield. I also present the main character with a dilemma, and unintentionally stop him from pursuing his intended path. 

Helen: No spoilers. But are you a ‘goody’ or a ‘baddie’? (Or maybe you are both!)
To those who don’t know me, I am haughty and unapproachable. There is some, erm, shall we say, ambiguity, surrounding the circumstances of my second marriage, but I am more sinned against than sinning. They took my children, so God knows I have paid for anything I might have done.

Helen: So you support the lead character? Who is he or she and tell us a little bit about him or her?
He is Alvar, an ealdorman who serves King Edgar, a successful 10th century king who avoided having to fight the Vikings. It’s doubtful that Edgar could have ever become king without Alvar’s help. Alvar knows Edgar will be a good, strong king, but he finds himself at odds with others around the king who resort to murder to get what they want. Alvar tries to protect the monarchy and his loved ones, and, as I discover too late, he is secretly in love with the wife of his deputy. Another struggle for the throne leaves the country in civil war, a king is murdered, and only Alvar can bring about peace and reconciliation. Loyalty once again drives him as he fights for the right of my son to become king.

Helen: Now be honest – what do you really think of this lead character!
This is strictly between you and me, yes? Then I must tell you that I find the man exasperating. When I arrived at court I desperately needed a friend. Alvar and I became allies, and, I like to think, something more than merely friends. He is loyal; not only to those whom he loves but to those whom he feels need his help. This makes him loveable, admirable, and infuriating. I know he sacrifices an awful lot by insisting on doing what he perceives as his duty. Unfortunately for us both, I don’t realise until much later the magnitude and the nature of that sacrifice.

I am, as I have been told many times, a beautiful woman. Why does he play so, so, oh, what is the modern expression? Hard to get, yes, that’s it. And he is so busy. He disappears, for long periods. I understand that he is spending time with the other lead character, but really, why can the man just not admit how he feels about me? There is one point in the story when he should be here and is not. He blames himself, I know he does, because of the catastrophic consequences. Well, since we are being brutally honest here, I blame him, too.

Helen: Do you like being the ‘supporting role’ or do you wish you could have a lead part in a book of your own?
Ha! What a question. Of course I should have had the lead role. Not only was I an anointed queen, who came to have a great deal of influence in the reign of my son, but I also have a tragic back story. Should I have had a book of my own, all about me? I must be fair to my author, who has tried her best to include as much of my story as time allowed, so no, I should be content. I know she tried to show both my public, proud persona and my private, vulnerable one, too.

Helen: What is one of your least favourite scenes?
Those earlier days, before I met Alvar. Before Edgar was in a position to help me. I was hurt, both physically and emotionally. I suffered, and it was cruel. My author describes one particular moment, but I do not wish to speak of it in detail here.

Helen: and your most favourite?
The day I walked free, leaving everything, and everyone, behind me. All I had was the dress I was wearing. It was enough to give me a new life.

Helen: Thank you – that was really interesting – I look forward to meeting you again in ‘your’ novel!

Helen: Now something for the intrepid author to answer. You can invite six fictional characters (not your own!) to Christmas Dinner – who will they be? 

Annie: Not my own characters? Well, I suppose that mine are not actually completely fictional anyway, being based on real people. So…

1. Aragorn, from Lord of the Rings: shares quite a lot of both the loyalty and reticence of Alvar.  
2. Sergeant Harper from the Sharpe novels by Bernard Cornwell: I’d love to ask him what it’s like playing ‘second fiddle’ to a character like Sharpe.
3. Charles Ryder from Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited: everything in the novel is seen through his eyes; I’d like to get to ‘see’ him. 
4. Christina from KM Peyton’s Flambards: She grew up in a world where aeroplanes had only just been invented, suffered the loss of loved ones during the Great War, and had to battle to keep her family’s estate from going under. I think she would have a lot of valuable advice.
5. Elizabeth-Jane Newson, from Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge: another ‘minor’ player, she bears the emotional journey she is forced to take with such fortitude. 
6. Maggie Tulliver from George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss: I’m not sure she would provide much in the way of scintillating conversation; I just want to give her a hug!

Some of these guests need alcohol to loosen their tongues, some will have plenty to say anyway, and some are just in need of a decent meal. Probably all have reason to drown their sorrows, but before we get too maudlin, let’s eat, drink and be merry. Happy Christmas! 

Twitter - @ALWhitehead63

Come back tomorrow to meet the next Supporting Role Character 

Here's the full list of authors and their characters  - links will be added as each character makes his or her entrance

6th     Inge H Borg and Vergil
7th    Matthew Harffy and Coenred
8th     Alison Morton and Lurio
9th     Regina Jeffers and Viscount Stafford
10th   Anna Belfrage and Luke Graham
11th   Christoph Fischer and the Countess
12th   Pauline Barclay and Zilda Gilespie 
13th   Antoine Vanner and Fred Kung
14th   Annie Whitehead and Queen Alfreda
15th   Derek Birks and Hal 
16th   Carolyn Hughes and Matilda Tyler 
17th   Helen Hollick and Claude de la Rue


  1. Thank you so much for welcoming Queen Alfreda to your blog today Helen - I hope you curtsied before she swept out of the room. She feels she has earned the right to command respect! :)

  2. Yes of course I did (without wobbling too much despite the arthritic knee!)

    1. Glad to hear it! (The curtsey, not the arthritic knee!) I think she feels sometimes that her crown is the only thing she has left to hold on to, poor lady...

  3. I would like to know Charles Ryder as well, Annie (or perhaps it is Matthew Goode that I would prefer at my supper table). Excellent choice, Annie, as is Elizabeth-Jane. Save a seat for me if you would.

    1. I rather wish I had insisted that I was to be one of the guests as well now! LOL

    2. Thanks Regina - although for me, it would be Jeremy Irons!

  4. Now you have me practicing my long-forgotten Viennese curtsies so as not to offend Queen Alfreda because I would very much like to be presented. Until then, she gave an interview worthy of a great character.
    And your dinner, Annie, will surely be a resounding success. (Even though we all neglected to invite time, dear lady.)

    1. Thank you Inge - Queen Alfreda is not quite as 'stand-offish' as she might appear, but I think it's fair to say that whilst we might sympathise with her, we don't necessarily grow to love her. Or maybe we do... either way, we should all 'mind our Ps & Qs' as the Brits say!

  5. Yes... with your back story you need a book all about you :) Now Edgar or Alvar... Alvar would be my choice.


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